17 Movie Sequels Better Than the Original
These movie sequels are number one.
We understand Hollywood’s instinct to take advantage of a successful movie by making a sequel. But not every big screen story deserves a second coming. In fact, most don’t. As much as we love Speed, we didn’t need its Cruise Control sequel tarnishing its legacy. Nor did we need a second Sex and the City film after six seasons and a movie. Finding a follow-up film worth watching is hard enough as it is. But finding a movie sequel that’s actually better than the original is like lightning in a bottle.
A good sequel is a treasure. It’s proof that our favorite stories can take new, inspired directions—and surprise us along the way. From the best of the Harry Potter franchise to one of the greatest Batman movies out there, we’ve rounded up 17 movie sequels that are better than the originals. And for some truly bad films, check out The Worst Movie Released Every Year Since 1950.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
For those of us raised on the Harry Potter series, there is simply no such thing as a bad Harry Potter movie. We accept them all equally as we would the very worst of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans.
But from a critical standpoint, it was in the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where director Alfonso Cuarón elevated the series from your typical young adult fantasy to a master class in the dark arts of filmmaking. It marked not only a shift in the franchise’s tone toward serious storytelling, but also a graduation of sorts for its young stars, who rose to the challenge of a more adult style.
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II followed up Francis Ford Coppola’s original masterpiece with a part-prequel, part-sequel portrait of the Corleone family. Its initial reception was underwhelming—likely because of the high expectations people placed on it after the original, and the choppiness of its structure.
But now, it’s regarded as Al Pacino’s defining performance and one of the best American movies of all time. It was also the very first sequel to win an Academy Award for Best Picture—not to mention five other Oscars!
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
More than a decade after the original Terminator came out, Arnold Schwarzenegger made good on his “I’ll be back” promise. He returned to save humanity from a future dominated by robot overlords in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
With an unparalleled blockbuster budget and under James Cameron’s direction, we got to watch The Terminator battle a shapeshifting robot villain for the future of mankind—with state-of-the-art (for the time) CGI to make it feel believable.
The Dark Knight
Several of the Batman sequels are better than the original (Danny DeVito as The Penguin was pretty unforgettable in Batman Returns). But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would argue against The Dark Knight for the top slot in the series.
In the 2008 film, Heath Ledger provided a haunting iteration of The Joker, for which he won a posthumous Academy Award. And the relatable moral complexity of each of the characters made Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman one of the best superhero films of all time.
Evil Dead 2
The Evil Dead trilogy forms an interesting arc that begins as pure horror and ends as a comedy. But the second film in the series is better than the original because it manages to walk a fine line between the two that’s rarely seen in the horror genre. Evil Dead 2 still follows the gory formula of the original cult classic, but winks and nods at the audience while doing it. It’s a true gem.
It’s rare for a horror film to become an Academy Award contender, let alone an action horror sequel with a female lead. But this Sigourney Weaver classic was nominated for seven Oscars in 1987. Aliens was almost unanimously heralded as excellent filmmaking as soon as it hit theaters, and it saw huge returns at the box office, raking in $130 million worldwide.
A Time review that landed the film on the cover argued that the sequel is better than the original “in the reach of its appeal while giving Weaver new emotional dimensions to explore.”
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 was originally intended for release as a direct-to-video sequel, as is the case with many animated movie follow-ups. But when Disney and Pixar realized the movie’s potential, they upgraded the film to a theatrical release. And thank goodness they did.
The second film was an instant fan favorite, earning 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to its age-transcending humor and its all-star cast of voice actors, the sequel provided a tender rumination on “life, love and belonging,” as Roger Ebert described in his 1999 review.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
George Lucas’s 1977 film Star Wars was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, so the 1980 sequel had some big shoes to fill. But unlike later sequels like The Phantom Menace, The Empire Strikes Back captures the heart of the Star Wars story, with even higher emotional stakes.
Ebert called it “the best of three Star Wars films, and the most thought-provoking.” “After the space opera cheerfulness of the original film, this one plunges into darkness and even despair, and surrenders more completely to the underlying mystery of the story,” he wrote.
Lethal Weapon 2
Even at the height of the buddy cop film era in the 1980s, the Lethal Weapon franchise managed to lap the competition. In the original, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover starred as war-hardened, world-weary police officers who spent nearly as much energy fighting their own demons as the film’s villains.
But the sequel allowed these characters to evolve in a surprising direction. The rapport between the pair of protagonists added a much lighter comedic counterpoint to their dark backstories and infused some fun into the suspense-filled plot line of the original.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The original Gremlins is often criticized for being too dark and disturbing, so the lighter tone of Gremlins 2 was a welcome shift. It built on the cult following of the original but added self-referential humor that parodied the first film. On top of that, The New Batch gave hilarious, campy tributes to other movies like Rambo, The Wizard of Oz, and The Phantom of the Opera.
Hot Shots! Part Deux
Hot Shots! Part Deux is ridiculous. It’s over the top, it’s slapstick, and it’s got a young Charlie Sheen with a mullet and lot of great one-liners. While it may not be a likely candidate for an Academy Award, its ability to make an over-the-top Rambo parody hilarious rather than cringe-worthy makes it a fan favorite. As Ebert put it, “Movies like this are more or less impervious to the depredations of movie critics. Either you laugh, or you don’t. I laughed.”
The Fast and the Furious: Fast Five
A few sequels in the Fast and the Furious series are better than the original, but Fast Five is where the story really comes together and flourishes. The franchise started as a somewhat insubstantial summer blockbuster about fast cars, cops, and muscle men. But it turned a corner in Fast Five to include a much more gripping heist storyline, higher emotional stakes, and sharper dialogue.
As a result, the audience’s investment in the relationships between the so-called family at the franchise’s center was greater than ever. Fast Five was intended to be the last film in the series, but it was so well-received that they’ve made three more since—and two additional films are currently in the works.
While many successful sequels owe their victories to a new director or dipping their toes into a new genre, Addams Family Values sat firmly in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. Building on the first movie’s charmingly-eccentric universe, this sequel added hilarious scenes of Wednesday Addams at summer camp, a disturbingly-named newborn, and Joan Cusack as a murderous trophy wife. Her monologue as she goes through a slideshow of her past victims is truly iconic.
Blade Runner 2049
It took 35 years for someone to make a new Blade Runner, and it was well worth the wait. The original—adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?— was considered one of the best science-fiction films of all time.
But the second edition shines under the direction of Denis Villeneuve, expanding on the original film’s plot, with the added benefit of stunning CGI effects, widely-heralded cinematography, and, of course, Ryan Gosling.
In Richard Linklater’s 1995 romance Before Sunrise, Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) share a once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind romance during a single night in Vienna, thinking they’ll probably never see each other again. So to follow up the film nine years later with the characters meeting back up for an afternoon is a fraught proposition: Not only could Before Sunset flop, it could destroy the magic of that perfect love, now frozen in time.
But this delayed sequel managed to capture that romance again, this time with characters a decade older, wiser, and even more relatable.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games series peaks with Catching Fire, a film that delves ever deeper into the dark world of Panem and the underbelly of the games. It artfully juxtaposes the pain of the surviving tributes and the oppressed districts with the shiny veneer of a victory tour.
The cast is at its apex in the film, with Jennifer Lawrence giving her best performance of the series, not to mention the introduction of Academy Award-winning legend Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee.
The Bourne Supremacy
A good revenge sequel can be the most satisfying kind, and The Bourne Supremacy delivers with emotional depth, thrilling action scenes, and a moody, atmospheric tone that draws you back into Jason Bourne’s world of espionage and vigilantism. It elevates the franchise to Bond status, and has us rooting for its complex hero-meets-anti-hero. And if you’re a cinephile who wants to test their film knowledge, check out the 19 Most Misquoted Movie Lines Of All Time.
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